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Wednesday, August 08, 2018 

DiDio and Lee won't recognize their mistakes

Dan DiDio and Jim Lee gave an interview to ICV2 (via Bounding Into Comics), where they were asked about why the declines in industry sales, not the least being their own, and the responses were pretty unsurprising:
ICv2: Comics and graphic novel sales were down last year across channels (see "Comics and Graphic Novel Sales Down 6.5% in 2017"). Why do you think that is?
Jim Lee: I think there were a couple things. We had higher returns on the book side.

That's from bad store traffic at Barnes & Noble?
Lee: Right, but it was something that was endemic of brick and mortar in general. I think they had a very soft fourth quarter last year. Also, we were past the first wave of "Rebirth" trades. From year to year, we had a much stronger 2016, versus 2017, in terms of the book trade product.

That was primarily it, I think. On the front-list side, some of our print runs were not as high as before. There's some softness in that category in general. That said, this year, periodical numbers have been exceeding our forecast, they've rebounded very, very sharply, very, very strongly for us. There is some continued softness on the trade side that we're concerned about.

In the book channel specifically, you mean?
Lee: Book channel, yes.

Dan Didio: My fear is that there's probably an over‑saturation of product. If you're looking at the numbers, you're looking at 400 new periodicals a month. I can't even imagine the number of collections that come out a month. It's overwhelming.

It's a lot of products. There's still a finite dollar in the marketplace, at least in the direct marketplace, that we see it recycles through. The base price for periodical comics now is $3.99, for the most part. I have to believe that some of that money goes to buying books at a higher price [rather] than buying a wider set of books that are out there.

We're just keeping an eye on the market itself. That's one of the reasons why we're trying different initiatives in other areas, because if there is a sense of contraction taking place, then we've got to show growth in areas that we think there's opportunity, like the young adult market.
With the kind of people they hired, and the visions they're taking, I don't see how that's possible. They claim it's better this year, but it's ill-advised to be over-optimistic. The part about over-saturation is laughable, because a lot of those products are surely coming from smaller publishers, as many become disillusioned with the political correctness DiDio and Lee have allowed at the publisher they don't deserve to be working for.
We did retailer interviews for the magazine we just put out, and they definitely felt like there are a lot of choices for consumers, which makes it harder for any single title to succeed. What are you doing in terms of number of releases in 2018 versus 2017?
Lee: A couple things that we've done: One, we've gone to our own catalog. We're not part of the Diamond Previews. We have DC Nations. We recognize that we want to really separate this notion of ordering the books and finding the right time to promote and market the books because they were one and the same before.

Before, you were given the solicitations, that's when you put out the ads. You were assuming that a lot of the customers were buying or picking up Previews to get the advance information about the comics, doing those orders. We recognize that by separating the two, we can promote the comics that are coming out closer to when we want to promote them.

We have a better opportunity to promote them closer to on-sale, and when we go out and give the information, we can give it directly to the retailers in a more succinct way, in a format that's not cluttered by all this other stuff that's being promoted or solicited at the same time.

Didio: For the sheer volume, we're probably producing close to what we did in '17, and probably projecting the same for '19.

If you're looking at the expansion of the market, we keep on seeing new companies being introduced every day. They seem to be coming out with a much stronger amount of content, right coming out of the gate. It's not a slow buildup, these guys are coming out on the ground running. I think that's probably adding that burden onto the retailers, not just the product line that we do. Like we said, we're pretty consistent with what we put out, but there’s just this constant introduction of new material and new companies that they're constantly having to choose from.

Lee: We’ve tried to be fairly judicious in doing retailer exclusive covers, and really have tried to put programs methodology to the variant covers that we do. It's something that we do think about, sit and strategize about.
If this means they're still producing variant covers, then as I've argued at times before, it's just what's wrong with the industry - catering to collectors instead of ensuring an entertaining story, which, as Brian Bendis is already proving with Superman, isn't the case, and since we're on the topic, according to this item, the management may already be disillusioned with a writer whose phoniness most audience long woke up to recognize, and a few projects he planned may have been put on hold. If his tenure at DC is shorter than we think, that'll be good, though knowing how nepotist these companies can be, there's no telling if they'll get rid of him so easily. If he remains and gets Batman instead, that won't be good either.

Getting back to the variants, it's also a waste of money. What they should simply do is pick the best artist's submissions and run with one of those, as was usually the case pre-2000, and now that I think of it, they also shouldn't cower at cover illustrations with really sexy babes on them, or pander to social justice. Above all, they should switch to trade paperbacks as a standard format for business, as I've argued is my belief, and Bob Layton made a similar case earlier that the pamphlet format has been around far too long, and serial fiction or not, it's just not viable anymore. Money could be saved by shifting to the paperback/hardcover as a standard format.

And the only burden being heaped upon retailers is badly written books from DC and Marvel. Certainly if they SJW-pandering, as their recent Vertigo ventures appear to be. If the smaller publishers are doing better, we should give them credit if they're delivering better writing and artwork. DiDio sounds like he's furious independents are grabbing audience away from their oh-so important Bendis ventures. There's also something ambiguous about this:
A couple of quick questions on the Walmart program (see "Walmart to Carry Exclusive DC Comics in 3,000 Stores”). Who's servicing the stores?
Didio: It's a company called MJ Holdings. They're handling it for us. The programs, we build it with them for Walmart.

They're like the category manager for the collectibles section?
Lee: Yeah.

They're restocking, is that right?
Didio: Just for the first month. What happened was that we're on a release pattern of two books every two weeks. We wanted to launch with all four books at the start. That's the reason why there's a restock taking place. Instead of two weeks later introducing two new titles, they're actually restocking with four titles. Starting in the month of August, you'll get two new books every two weeks.

Are there returns?
Didio: As of right now, there are no returns.

Does that mean that everything's selling out, or that you're not taking any returns?
Didio: Right now, we're working with them to find the right way to stock this. Ultimately, once we do that, we'll work out an agreement on how we manage the inventory.

And any excess?
Didio: Yeah.
If the books are non-returnable, then that's a mistake too. And DiDio didn't answer that clearly. So what's his point? It's pathetic they won't even address the problems with outdated formats and the unwillingness to try Layton's ideas going forward.

Above all, they fail to even acknowledge their ability to screw up, as they did in past years, and still are, both in marketing and artistic merit. It never helps, and DiDio would do well to just get out of the industry already.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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